Creating pre-school environments that are more interactive and joyful

Creating pre-school environments that are more interactive and joyfulThe  European Union  Support  to District Development  Programme (EU-SDDP)  is a  Euro  60  million partnership between the European Union, the Sri Lankan government, UNICEF and other UN agencies to create  greater  access  to  social   infrastructure  and  services  for vulnerable  communities  in  the districts  of Ampara,  Batticaloa,  Mannar,  Vavuniya  and  border  villages  in the districts  of  Puttalam, Anuradhapura and Monaragala.

What is the  secret  behind  this  apparently  inexplicable  phenomenon?  The  answer  is  simple:  the  teachers and parents of the Pubudu Pre-School in the Puttalam district, came together in a process of recreating  the   school   to   bring   out   the  best  in  the students.   What  made  this possible  is  the  European   Union    Support   to   District  Development   Programme’s    efforts   to   help  vulnerable  schools improve their  learning  environments  and  nurture strong school communities.  UNICEF has established 54 model early childhood development (ECD) centers in seven districts through EU-SDDP support.

“UNICEF and its local partner the NGO OfERR, brought us this initiative. And the change began with us, the  teachers,”  says   head teacher,  Sewwandi   Hemamali.  “We  first  followed  a three-day  training programme for  teachers.  It was a creative workshop  that also discussed child rights and child well-being.  We then visited model pre-schools in the Nuwara Eliya district. There was much for us to learn there.  I learnt, for example, how to make the classroom more attractive, how to display the creativity of children, how to inspire the students.”

Preceding these activities, was a planning exercise, with both teachers and parents, facilitated by OfERR.  A full-day workshop for teachers and parents was held to develop a five-year plan for the school. The participants first identified the current situation, the existing challenges: Why are some children reluctant to come to school?  What are the difficulties parents and teachers experience?

“We looked for answers together, “says Ms. Udeni,  whose  child is poised  to leave the  pre-school and  enter primary school. “We identified the need for electricity,  a  kitchen,  a  school  garden,   fencing, a  gate.   And  many  of  the  walls  were  decaying.  Even though some of these plans won’t be realized before my child leaves the school, I am happy that other  children  will  benefit.  This  is  a  special school. I am a Tamil mother, my child is the only Tamil student in this school. The teacher even takes the trouble and time to teach me Sinhala letters.”

Both  teachers  and  parents are jointly responsible for implementing the five-year plan. Certainly, the changes taking place in the pre-school are not just physical: “My son has become more sociable,” says Dharshika Fonseka, “ He has many friends now. He has begun to relate with other children.”

13-8Nadeesha Perera observes that the school has become a more stimulating environment: “This is my third child coming to the pre-school, she is much more enthusiastic about school than my two older children were. She is also learning much faster than they did.  Our teacher is forward thinking.  She does so much for the children of our village and that in turn motivates us. We came second in a pre-school competition this year.  Next year we want to come first.”

Pre-school teachers are key stakeholders in the EU-SDDP Health and Nutrition sector. Learning materials for improved awareness on infant and young child feeding practices have been shared with both teachers and parents. The school meals consistently meet good nutritional standards.

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